I’m not someone who generally loves small indie movies that blow some minor human drama into a hysteria for the ages. I love real stories – stories with action, externalized drama, physical obstacles, where something transformative happens. To me, most small character dramas that I read don’t offer up enough dramatic stakes to warrant a cinematic journey. I find a lot of these indie drama scripts self-indulgent and pretentious in their naivete. Story is actually carefully crafted and should contain many various elements – it cannot just be a protagonist bumbling through life and feeling that every little thing that happens to him is a huge emotional hysteria. I don’t care that much about your precious hysterias.
Real dramatic stakes are not crafted because something insignificant or “every day” happens and the protagonist responds with hysterical emotion (or not). Real drama is created by actual events occurring in the life of the protagonist – events with real dramatic stakes attached to them with life and death stakes. This is why I recommend so strongly for young writers to really study film and watch produced films. Produced films generally have very tightly crafted stories with enormous dramatic stakes. Action and reaction.
Most small character dramas I’ve been reading lately don’t have enough story, don’t have enough character, don’t have enough going on, period, and the journey isn’t worthy of a movie. All the more so if the protagonist is a writer or another professional that is equally without physically active dramatic stakes.
However, if you are going to write the small indie character drama, make sure the dramatic stakes are there. If you don’t have some kind of immediate life or death stakes going on, or one of your characters isn’t dealing with a life or death (literally, birth or death, recent death or the threat of death) situation, then make sure your characters are the most passionate characters in the world. They need to feel absolutely passionately about what is going on in their world, and there should be a series of very significant reveals (with tons of emotional value) that continue to build the stakes within the world, even if there isn’t much happening in terms of plotting.
Writing a “slice of life” piece where an average Joe bumbles through life feeling apathy, and his life isn’t nearly as exciting as my own, I wonder, what’s the point of this script? If you are working with a story that has very little active physical story plotting, then you must work 200% with character to make the journey worth it to the reader. We must really get an intimate bird’s eye view into the emotional lives of your characters, and this journey had better be emotionally resonant.
Be aware about your subject matter. Screenplay isn’t about people having conversations with other people – it is a lot more than a slice of life. Just because you wake up one morning and fancy yourself a writer doesn’t mean you should send that first script first draft out. Think carefully about what you’re writing.